“ BPP - Law school and training provider in UK „
BPP Law School is a private provider of professional legal education and attained university status in 2007. It is one of the biggest and most well known law schools of its type, along with its main rival the College of Law. Smaller law schools offering the same or similar courses include Nottingham Law School, Kaplan and City Law School.
=== Locations ===
BPP Law School has two branches in London, which are on Red Lion Street (Holborn) and Stamford Street (Waterloo). They also have some branches across the country, the main ones being in Manchester and Leeds. Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge also offer some courses.
=== Available Courses ===
BPP Law School's main courses are the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL, also known as the law conversion course), Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC, previously known as the Bar Vocational Course or BVC).
These courses are only available to students who have already completed undergraduate degrees. A student with a degree in any subject can take the GDL in order to "convert" to law. Students taking the LPC and BPTC must have either an undergraduate law degree or an undergraduate non-law degree plus GDL.
BPP also offers fast track undergraduate law degrees (LLB) but I do not have any experience of this and don't think it would be fair to really comment on it. BPP also gives GDL students the option of gaining an LLB title by taking two extra modules as well as offering legal masters courses (LLM).
I studied the GDL at BPP Waterloo. As I have only studied the GDL, some of my comments apply specifically to that course, although a lot will be relevant to the law school as a whole.
=== Modes of study ===
All courses can be studied full time or part time. The GDL can also be studied via distance learning rather than normal face to face classes. Due to BPP's size the law school is able to offer a lot of timetable options for part time students, such as having classes in the evenings or every few weekends, making the courses very flexible.
I studied the GDL on the distance learning programme and had the choice of completing all of my tutorials online in a Skype style chatroom, coming into the law school for blocks of 4 days at a time or coming in twice as often for blocks which were only 2 days in length. This flexibility really was a bonus for me as I was working in a full time job abroad when I started this course and it suited me to study independently and just fly to London a few times a year to consolidate the material in tutorial groups. I was not keen on having all my tutorials online only, as I prefer to be able to occasionally meet my course mates and tutors and find the atmosphere in person is a bit more engaging, interesting and productive.
Full time students will be at the law school regularly, usually having tutorials on around 4 days per week.
=== Learning materials ===
When I started the GDL a large package of books was sent out to me. It included eight textbooks, one for each module and a general one on the English legal system. These textbooks are quite costly to buy yourself, costing £20 to £30 each, so it is definitely a bonus that they are included. You are also sent seven case books which include extracts from judgments along with relevant commentary which is put together by BPP Law School itself and a statute book, containing legislation. This one is important as you are allowed to take it into the exam hall with you. You are also sent seven packs of typed, hole punched notes which are written by the BPP Law School tutors for each module. These are known as the "manuals" and are extremely helpful. I would say the amount of materials provided is really very good. I must say the admin side of the materials provision was poor, as my books were originally sent to a completely wrong address. However, they did send me out a replacement package within a couple of weeks.
A great deal of online resources are made available to all students on the "virtual learning environment" known as the VLE. All lectures are recorded and made available to hear online or download as an mp3 and listen on the go. Powerpoint lecture slides are also put up on the VLE. The system is regularly updated with notes from tutors, instructions, articles to read etc and by looking at the VLE you can always easily see what work you need to do and it helped me keep very organised. There is a section for each module and within each module there are folders for every topic and tutorial, containing tutorial questions, pratice essays, mini tests and more. There is also a books folder which contains e-book copies of all of the books which the students have received in hard copy. This system is excellent and makes it really easy to keep on top of things. Everything is easy to find on there.
The law schools have well stocked and clearly organised law libraries on campus, containing lots of copies of the most popular text books and a very good range of other books and journals. The online library system gives you access to a great deal of journals online including some obscure ones. There are plenty of computers, printers, copiers and study areas. I was given £50 of printer credit automatically the first time I logged on in the library.
=== GDL content, teaching and assessment===
The GDL consists of the following main modules:
Law of Torts
Constitutional and Administrative Law
Equity and Trusts Law
All except EU law are assessed by way of three hour written exams. EU law is assessed by coursework and an online test. There are also case analysis and statute analysis tests as well as an independent research essay which must be written during the year on an area of law which has not been covered in class. The main exams take place in May and June, with deferrals and resits in August.
The pass mark is 40. You need 60 for a commendation and 70 for a distinction. According to the statistics, the majority of students achieve a bare pass but some law firms will require a commendation from their future trainees.
To prepare for coursework and exams, students have the option to complete some practice essays throughout the year. These are not compulsory and most people don't do all of them. The work load of a full time GDL student is very heavy due to the sheer volume of information they have to learn in one year, so it is difficult to fit in all the practices. I was studying part-time and was able to do a fair amount of the practice essays, but not all of them.
I found the quality of the marking and feedback was variable. Most tutors marked work quickly (within a week or two) and provided sensible comments and corrections. However, I was very annoyed by one contract law tutor who marked my first practice essay with a mark in the high 70s and stated that the structure was very good, when in fact I had used a chronological structure which was frowned upon and I should have gone through the problem question dealing with each party in turn under separate headings. I then completed my coursework using this chronological structure and got a much lower mark due to this. I would have appreciated proper feedback earlier on and the tutor should have corrected this structure issue when marking my practice essay.
Many of the tutors are ex-practitioners and most are very good. Some have great personalities and are able to explain the law in a really entertaining way which sticks in your mind. The tort lecturer is great for this and is known as a bit of a legend among BPP GDL students. Tutors are generally willing to talk to you and explain issues in more detail if you want their help.
=== Course fees ===
Legal education is not cheap.
The full time GDL at London Waterloo costs £9,400 for the year. It costs £7,510 or £7,620 at other regional centres.
The full time LPC costs £13,026 in London or £9,576 in Leeds and Manchester.
The full time BPTC costs £16,885 in London or £13,785 in Leeds.
BPP has a new law loan programme where students can borrow the course fees, but it is a commercial loan with interest and not at all comparable to the usual "student loans" through the Student Loan Company. Full details about the loan can be found on the BPP website, altough the link currently seems to be broken. There is also the option to pay in instalments.
Some students wishing to go down the LPC route and become commercial solicitors will be sponsored by the law firm which offers them a training contract, meaning their GDL and LPC fees will be paid by the firm and the students will also often receive a maintenance grant of around £7,500 per year to help with their living costs. I would therefore definitely advise any student who wants to go into commercial law to apply for training contracts before commencing the course to ensure they get as much financial assistance as possible. Students wanting to work in high street firms, legal aid or other such areas are much less likely to get sponsorship and usually have to pay their own fees. BPTC students can sometimes get scholarships from one of the Inns of Court, but generally have a bigger financial burden to bear themselves.
=== Careers and prospects ===
These courses are vocational and are generally only useful if you want to do legal work. Most people taking these courses are doing so because they want to become solicitors or barristers. I know a few people who claim to be taking the GDL for "general interest", however it is an expensive way to learn about the law if you don't actually need the course for your career! To some extent I can understand taking the GDL out of interest, as it is a course based on substantive law, although it is more practical than theoretical as the material has to be condensed to fit into one year. However, there is pretty much no point in taking the LPC or BPTC unless you want to become a solicitor or barrister. The courses have little value other than allowing you to enter these specific professions. They won't look impressive on a general CV! I personally think it is a bit reckless to start doing the LPC without having been offered training contract (two year traineeship you need to complete to qualify as a solicitor). It is fairly rare for aspiring barristers to have been offered a pupillage (one year traineeship to qualify as a barrister) before the BPTC, so they often need to take a gamble on the course. It is a big gamble, as the number of places on these courses far outstrips the number of pupillages and training contracts available. This means the quality of the careers service at the law school is an extremely important factor for a lot of students!
I found the careers service at BPP good in some ways, but quite poor in others. The VLE online system has a fairly comprehensive careers section, including information on many law firms and chambers. It features recordings of pasts talks from visiting lawyers, talks giving hints on application style etc. There is a database where students can add their interview experiences to help each other. There is a law fair and regular talks or networking sessions with law firms throughout the year. I didn't really use any of this as I was living abroad, but the range of events was impressive and some of my friends did go to a lot of events and find them helpful. There is also a weekly newsletter which gives details of work experience, job opportunities and projects which will look good on a CV.
There is also a careers office on campus which offers drop in sessions, CV and application reviewing services and practice tests, as many law firms require you to take verbal reasoning, logic or maths tests. I borrowed a Watson Glaser test from them which I found very useful as practice papers of this type are famously very hard to track down. There is one online on the website of the firm Hogan Lovells but that seems to be it! The CV reviewing service seemed to be of quite a low quality in my opinion. I asked someone to have a quick look at my first application and I thought his suggestions were quite poor such as suggesting I include some information about awards the firm had won. I did not implement his advice and I got the interview with my original application.
I attended a careers session which was run for my class of distance learners and found the quality of advice extremely poor. I already had a training contract by this point and I was much better informed than the girl giving the talk (if I say so myself!) Her advice basically consisted of writing a list of goals and then spamming random firms with letters begging for work experience. There was no mention of some of the most popular and useful resources out there such as lawcareers.net, Chambers Student Guide or LEX 100 which give information about the biggest law firms. She did not even mention that most firms have structured vacation schemes, so you have to follow their recruitment procedure and can't just get work experience by writing a letter. I was actually gobsmacked by how poor this session was. It took place during the second year of our course and as most law firms recruit two years in advance, students who had not yet applied by that point would be looking at at least one gap year before starting work if they did manage to get a training contract. However, the leader of the session was saying things like "well done for starting to think about your futures already", implying the students still had loads of time. There definitely needed to be a greater sense of urgency and it should have been made clear how the legal recruitment system actually works. It is pretty shocking if a student hasn't looked this up and found it out for himself or herself as they need to take some responsibility, but if they haven't then I do think the law school careers service needs to tell them.
=== Activities ===
There are not as many societies and activities at BPP as at a mainstream university. However, there are a few societies such as the skiing society and dance society. The main things on offer are pro bono legal projects and there are absolutely loads of these. I took part in quite a few. The projects include work on intellectual property, human rights, environmental law, giving talks to school children and talks to prisoners. This kind of project does give you some more extra curricular activity for your CV if you are still looking for a training contract and it is good experience for its own sake too, allowing you to learn and put skills in practice.
=== Overall ===
BPP Law School is a decent law school, as you would expect as it is one of the biggest names in the industry. As it is so big, it can sometimes feel a bit impersonal but I am happy with the quality of teaching and materials. I would say that going there to do the GDL or LPC without a training contract lined up is a big, expensive gamble and although the careers service can offer some help, it is not perfect.